Edinburgh sky to be lit up for launch of international festival | Culture

Edinburgh’s night sky will be pierced by more than 260 powerful spotlights this weekend as the city’s international festival launches an online programme of concerts, opera and ballet events.

The light installation, part of a programme that festival organisers are calling My Light Shines On, will be switched on at 9.30pm on Saturday around many of the festival’s venues and concert halls, which will also be illuminated internally by lanterns shining and pulsing behind their closed doors.

Involving clusters of between 10 and 25 static and moving lights at sites such as the Usher hall, the Edinburgh Castle esplanade and Bristo Square, the lights are intended to celebrate the work of artists and festival workers despite the venues being closed to the public during the coronavirus crisis.

Simultaneously, the festival will broadcast online 11 new films between 20 and 60 minutes in length, featuring new productions by Scotland’s major arts companies, including a programme of Mahler by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and several featuring Scottish Ballet performances.

The lights are intended to mark what would have been the launch night of this year’s international festival as it was originally planned. The festival hopes to encourage Edinburgh’s residents to find high vantage points such as the city’s numerous hills or upper-floor windows to see the lights to their fullest extent.

“We wanted a Saturday evening kind of gala moment, and we wanted that to tally up with the lighting up of the city,” said Fergus Linehan, the international festival’s director. Some of the films “are more like little postcards and others are more substantial”.

Once the lights installation ends on 10 August, the festival will switch on a sound installation in Princes Street Gardens under the castle rock, broadcasting 40-minute long classical concerts featuring artists including the Dunedin Consort and Hebrides Ensemble.

Edinburgh’s summer festivals have been forced to innovate after all their live productions were cancelled in early April for the first time since 1947 as the UK and Scottish governments responded to the coronavirus pandemic.

The programme includes a new production of two movements from Carl Orff’s composition Carmina Burana by the Edinburgh Festival Chorus. Over 120 chorus members rehearsed and performed their parts from home online; the recordings have been stitched into two films.

The gradual easing of the lockdown over the summer allowed orchestras, ballet and opera companies to reconvene at the Festival theatre, where the stage is large enough to allow the correct levels of social distancing, the Queen’s Hall nearby and the bar of the King’s theatre.

Scottish Ballet dancers Thomas Edwards, Sophie Martin and Barnaby Rook Bishop at the Festival theatre on Monday. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

These events, which involved about 500 artists, producers and technical staff, ensured the festival remained productive despite the cancellation of live, public events. Linehan said making the films was “the festival equivalent of playing football behind closed doors, trying to do festival programming in every sense, except for having the audience there.

“Artists have been doing their thing at home but for many of them they just haven’t been able to spark off each other so it has been incredibly moving for musicians to play together again and be back at their place of work.”

Linehan said the pandemic had made producing this year’s festival a “very, very peculiar” experience. He said audiences would start to return. “We haven’t had a huge amount of time to dwell on it. We’re in the middle of a crisis and it just feels our role in this is to be helpful,” he said. “It is just too urgent at the moment to indulge ourselves [in fretting about what has been lost].

“You’ve just got to remain positive in that and you’ve got to stay practical and think with your feet on the ground. It has been very much all hands on deck, and do everything we can.”

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